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What is the symbolism behind the dove in Jewish literature?

What is the symbolism behind the dove in Jewish literature?

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Question:

My mother passed away recently. During her burial, two doves flew by, stopped, and watched the service without making any noises. What is said about doves in Jewish sources?

Answer:

In Song of Songs, the moving love depicting the loving relationship between G‑d and His nation, the "dove" is an adjective often used to describe the bride, the Jewish people.

Our sages tell us of many wonderful qualities which the dove possesses, qualities which are also associated with the Jewish people -- and hence the use of the dove as our metaphor. Perhaps some of these wonderful qualities would be appropriate descriptions of your mother?

Here are some of them:

"Just as the dove is only saved by her wings, so, too, the Jews are only saved by the merit of their mitzvot."1

"The dove said before G‑d: 'Master of the universe; let my food be bitter like an olive, but from Your hands, and not sweet as honey but dependent on the hands of flesh and blood.'"2

"All other birds rest on a rock or a tree when they tire, but when the dove tires she pushes off the ground with one wing and flies with the other."3

"Just like a dove once she meets her mate never leaves him for another… just as a dove whose fledglings are taken from her nest still doesn't abandon her nest…, so are the Jewish people faithful to G‑d."4

Please accept my condolences for your mother.

Yours truly,

Rabbi Menachem Posner

FOOTNOTES
1.

Talmud Brachot 53b. For the connection between mitzvot and wings, see Tanya ch. 40.

2.

Talmud Sanhedrin 108b -- in reference to the olive leaf which the dove brought back to Noah's Ark..

3.

Midrash Rabbah, Genesis 39.

4.

Midrash Rabbah, Song of Songs 1.

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org. He lives with his family in Montreal, QC.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
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Discussion (1)
March 25, 2010
wow! i was looking at this thing cause we have a research project on this and i really needed this. thx!
jimmy dang
houston, texas
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